Last year was the best year of my life. In a short 12 months, I visited 11 new places and studied abroad for 3 months. I met an amazing, interesting, and diverse group of people who I will hold dear to me for the rest of my life. And, as cliché as it may be, I made memories that I will never forget.
Last year also happened to be one of the worst years of my life. While I was abroad, my grandma who is, or rather was, one of the most important people in my life, got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The news hit me hard considering we were 10 hours apart by plane. I wouldn’t be there to hold her hands through her chemotherapy treatments. I wouldn’t there during her sleepless nights or agonizing days. I wouldn’t be able to hug her when she felt sad nor would she be there to do the same for me.
To be honest, I felt guilty. Guilty that I was having the best time of my life while she was experiencing the worst time of her’s. There wasn’t one day I didn’t wish I could be with her. If I wouldn’t have been abroad studying for school, I would’ve cut my trip short to be with her.
The first two days after I found out about her diagnoses were the hardest. I couldn’t go an entire hour without shedding a tear. I couldn’t call her because I knew the second I heard her voice I would break down in tears which would only upset her.
I knew that if I wanted to enjoy the second half of my trip, I had to change my outlook on the situation and overcome the guilt I felt. This proved very difficult at first. The first challenge was making my first phone call to her. When I finally built up the courage and FaceTimed her she answered with a smile on her face and spoke like her normal, happy self; as if nothing had changed. This didn’t entirely come as a surprise to me because my grandma, as the strongest person I know, always put my feelings before hers. That smile of hers was her way of preventing me from worrying about her when I could’ve been enjoying my experience abroad. I realized, that although she was trying to make me feel better, she was also genuinely happy to talk to me. She loved hearing about the culture I was immersed into, the people I had met, the food I was eating, and the places I was traveling. My grandma found genuine joy and happiness in knowing that I was having the time of my life.
The point I am trying to make is that when we are traveling, the people back home keep living. When we go anywhere, we have to realize the possibility of things happening, good or bad, when we are not home. Things won’t wait for you to get back in order to change or happen. This is a hard pill to swallow for many, including myself. In the age of FoMo (fear of missing out), we all want to be everywhere at once. But, seeing as though we can only be at one place at a time, we have to make the best of every situation we find ourselves in.
The moment I found out my grandma was diagnosed could’ve been the end of the trip as I knew it. I could have easily stayed in my room the rest of the trip as an emotional wreck or have even gotten on the next flight home. But what I did was find a new way to approach the situation. From then on, I called my grandma minimum once a day and told her every detail about my day, down to the color underwear I was wearing. I made sure to do as much as I possibly could everyday so I would have plenty to tell her; the more I told her, the happier she was.
It’s easy to wallow in the bad. But by finding the silver lining, I was able to turn what could’ve been the worst trip of my life into the best. I was able to experience everything both for myself and for my grandma. I was able to tell her every detail of my trip and make her smile. I’ll never be able to do that on another trip. What could’ve been the worst year of my life was actually the best, just because I changed the way I look at it. Yes, my grandma was diagnosed with cancer and passed away 5 short months after; but, I had her for 11 out of 12 months, and I’ll never be able to say that again.
About Rachel Marks: Rachel is a student University of Florida student pursuing degrees in Political Science and Public Relations and a minor in Nonprofit Organization Leadership. She hopes to revolve her future around experiencing new cultures, meeting people from around the world, and giving back to community. You can follow Rachel’s past and future travels on her Instagram.